BRADENTON -- About six months before John Rice went into business in Manatee County, he was in the market for outdoor power equipment. Rice, now the owner of Rice's Appliance and TV, says that "terrible" shopping experience in the mid-'90s revealed a gap in the market.
"The shops didn't care to be fully explanatory or answer my questions or even wait on me," Rice said. "I realized Manatee County was in need of a fully certified and fully authorized shop that pays attention to customers' needs."
Today, responding to customers thoroughly and quickly led Rice to merge the operations of his two businesses into one location. In September, Rice remodeled unused space in the Rice's Appliance & TV property at 6430 14th St. W. to convert it into a showroom for the Rice's Outdoor Power business. Now all of Rice's merchandise, from large household appliances to residential and commercial lawnmowers is all sold in the same place.
The 14th Street building was formerly a DeSears Appliance location. Rice was part of a local partnership that purchased the now-defunct DeSears brand in 1994. He and his partners sold the business to a Colorado company in 2008. The DeSears stores closed less than two years later.
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In 2009, Rice was back on the scene, opening Rice's Outdoor Power. In 2010, he reopened the other business under the Rice's Appliance & TV name. But he didn't actually purchase the property until last year.
The new outdoor power showroom is about two times larger than the space formerly occupied by Rice's Outdoor Power at 1225 29th Ave. W. The renovation also allowed Rice to open up more space for his mechanics, who he said now have more than two times the space to work on repairs than they had at the previous location.
The renovation and moving the two businesses under one roof has been a long time coming. Rice had plans to expand before the Great Recession in 2008, but foresaw the instability and decided to wait. And although he opened both businesses post-recession when some considered it the riskiest time to open a business, Rice saw it as an opportunity to provide something that was missing in the Manatee County community.
Jeff Pucci has worked at Rice's for five years as the general manager. Working with the community is one of his favorite parts of his job. He said sometimes customers drop by just to have a cup of coffee and talk shop. The benefits of the move are many for Pucci.
"Well, I get to have John all day," Pucci said of Rice. Rice used to "run back and forth all the time" between the two locations. "And the grouping of staffs together is great; we have great camaraderie." Pucci also said the 14th Street location allows large trailers to park more easily than the 28th Avenue West store. Combining the businesses under one roof gives "support for the expansion of the business."
Ron Sikkema, owner of Bradenton-based West Bay Landscape, said Rice's focus on customer service has made him a Rice's customer since the business opened.
"You can purchase equipment from penny dealers, but the importance for us is service," Sikkema said. "John and his team just do a great job working with us and being proactive with working on maintenance and warranty issues."
Rice's will host two grand opening days to celebrate bringing both businesses under one roof; one event will be on Friday and will be geared toward commercial customers. Rice's will host a second celebration on Saturday for homeowners. They'll give away free "swag" like T-shirts and hats along with free food. Discounts and giveaways will also be a part of the grand opening days and equipment factory representatives will be on hand to answer customer questions.
Janelle O'Dea, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow her on Twitter@jayohday. Herald business reporter Matt Johnson contributed to this story.